Joint statement by heads of UN humanitarian agencies on Syria

Press Releases, 23 April 2014

NEW YORK, GENEVA, ROME, 23 April, 2014. One year ago, as leaders of UN agencies struggling to deal with the growing human impact of the Syrian crisis, we issued an urgent appeal on behalf of millions of people whose lives and futures hang in the balance: Enough, we said, enough!

That appeal has gone largely unanswered. The war escalates in many areas. The humanitarian situation deteriorates day after day. And for the civilians remaining in the cities of Aleppo and the Old City of Homs, as well as other parts of the country experiencing heavy fighting, the worst days seem yet to come.

As the fighting has intensified in recent weeks, at least one million people are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in Aleppo alone. The road from Damascus to Aleppo a vital lifeline has often been cut. 1.25 million people are in need of food in Aleppo city and rural parts of the governorate. Other key roads are blocked by different armed forces and groups.

All too often, humanitarian access to those in need is being denied by all sides. Aerial bombardment, rockets, mortars and other indiscriminate attacks slaughter innocent men, women, and children. In Aleppo it is reported that there are now only 40 doctors for a population of 2.5 million people once there were more than 2,000 and medical supplies are scarce. The city is surrounded on all sides.

Across Syria, the lives of more than 9.3 million people are now affected in this, the fourth year of conflict. With a third of the nation's water treatment plants no longer functioning, with 60 per cent of health centres destroyed, and with some 3.5 million people living in areas under siege or unable to be reached with humanitarian assistance, the innocent civilians of Syria seem to be surviving on sheer courage.

As humanitarian agencies, working closely with international and national non-governmental organizations, we are doing all we can to save lives and alleviate suffering even in the face of great danger to, and sacrifice by, our colleagues on the ground. But we know that what we can do is not sufficient. Not nearly so.

If we are to do more, to reach and help more people, those engaged in this horrific conflict, and those with influence over them, must do more.

Today, we call upon all parties to this brutal conflict to take urgent action to:

- Enable unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need, using all available routes either across lines inside Syria or across its borders.

- Lift the sieges on civilians currently being imposed by all sides, such as those now sealing off parts of Aleppo, the Old City of Homs, Yarmouk, East Ghouta, Moadhamieh, Nubl and Zahra.

- End the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilians by the Government and opposi-tion groups and stop all other violations of international humanitarian law.

Thus far, diplomatic efforts designed to end years of suffering have failed. What have not failed are the courage and determination of extraordinary Syrian civilians to survive. Can those with the responsibility and the power and the influence to stop this terrible, tragic war find the same courage? The same will?

For if the civilians of Syria have not given up, how can the world give up on its efforts to save them and save Syria?

Valerie Amos

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Anthony Lake

Executive Director, UNICEF

António Guterres

UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Ertharin Cousin

Executive Director, World Food Programme

Dr. Margaret Chan

Director-General, World Health Organization


For more information:

  • Jens Laerke, OCHA Geneva. Tel: +41-22-917-1142, Cell: +41-79-472-9750, laerke@un.org
  • Abeer Etefa, WFP Cairo. Tel: +202-2528-1730 ext. 2600, Cell: +20-106-663-4352, abeer.etefa@wfp.org
  • Najwa Mekki, UNICEF New York. Tel: +1-212-326-7448, Cell: +1-917-209-1804, nmekki@unicef.org
  • Melissa Fleming, UNHCR Geneva. Tel + 41-22-739-7965, Cell: + 41-79-557-9122, fleming@unhcr.org
  • Christy Feig, World Health Organization, Geneva. Tel: + 41-79-251-7055, feigc@who.int
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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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